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  • A Buffalo in the House
  • Written by R. D. Rosen
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780812978889
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A Buffalo in the House

The Extraordinary Story of Charlie and His Family

Written by R. D. RosenAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by R. D. Rosen

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animals (8) bison (5)
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Synopsis|Excerpt|Reader Reviews

Synopsis

A buffalo in the house? Yes, a buffalo. More than a hundred years after her pioneer ancestors hand-raised two baby buffalo to help rescue the species from the brink of extinction, Veryl Goodnight and her husband, Roger Brooks, commit themselves to saving just one. When they welcome an orphaned baby buffalo into their Santa Fe home, they expect him to stay just until he’s old enough to rejoin a herd.

But Charlie becomes a big part of their family life–about two pounds bigger every day.

Surrounded by people and dogs, Charlie has no idea he’s a buffalo–and Roger has no idea how strong the bond between a middle-aged man and a buffalo can be. When Charlie’s eventual introduction to a herd results in a terrible accident, Charlie’s courage and Roger and Veryl’s devotion are pushed to their limits.

Contrasting the nineteenth-century killing of tens of millions of buffalo against our own environmental consciousness, this book asks the question: How far are you willing to go for an animal you love? A love story, a comedy, and a history of the American West, A Buffalo in the House packs a major emotional wallop and will be hard to forget.

“More than a touching man-beast buddy tale . . . Rosen lovingly chronicles the history of an embattled species and its importance in the American West.”
–Entertainment Weekly

“Riveting . . . From the story of one stray baby bison named Charlie . . . and the family that took him in, Rosen has drawn a sweeping history of the American frontier. . . . I can’t remember when I’ve been instructed so gracefully, or entertained to such deep purpose.”
–Jane Kramer, The New Yorker

“Powerful . . . [Charlie is] one of the most memorable characters in recent nature writing.”
–Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Moving proof of the restorative powers of man’s relationship with nature.”
–People

“If you’re mad for Marley, elated over Elsa the lion, [or] rowdy for Rascal . . . stampede out and get A Buffalo in the House.”
Huron Daily Tribune

Excerpt

Chapter One

Veryl Goodnight held the receiver against her ear with a shrugged shoulder while she wiped the clay off her hands with a rag. She was a well-known sculptor in bronze of animals, frontier women, and other Western subjects—and a beautiful, young-looking woman in her fifties with a soft, sibilant voice.

“It’s Marlo Goble. How are you today?”

Veryl Goodnight’s heart jumped. Dr. Marlo Goble was a famous orthopedic surgeon with many medical patents to his credit, and a collector of Veryl’s art as well. But at the moment his key credential was that he owned the Medicine Lodge Buffalo Ranch in Idaho, just west of Yellowstone National Park. It was traditional buffalo country and the site of one of the most famous buffalo jumps, where, for thousands of years, the Plains Indians had hunted buffalo en masse by stampeding them off a bluff.

“I’m okay,” Veryl said. “How are you?”

“Oh, I’m just fine. How’s Roger?”

“Just fine. He’s out in the barn with the horses.” She glanced out the window of the studio with its Spanish tile floor and high ceiling. Beyond the barn, even though it was May in Santa Fe, there were still a few dollops of winter snow left on the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

“Good, good. I’m calling because I’ve got a two-day-old bison calf here who needs a mother. The lady postman found him yesterday wandering down by the fence on my property.”

Finally, she thought. With birthing season almost over, she had just about given up hope. It had been three months since Veryl had written letters to five buffalo ranchers in the West, men who knew her and her work, asking them to let her know if and when they had a “bottle baby”—an orphaned buffalo who needed a temporary human home. Unlike genetically compromised, bred-to-be-docile cattle, mature buffalo cows were extremely self-sufficient, rarely died in childbirth, and even more rarely abandoned their young.

“What happened to the mother?” she asked, her eyes gliding over the sculpture of three wolves she was working on. Something wasn’t right. Like any artist, she saw hundreds of flaws where a bystander would see only the miracle of an animal come to life in clay.

“I’ll bet my cowboys were moving the herd to another pasture and they didn’t notice that one of the cows had given birth. The little guy must’ve gotten left behind. By the time we found him, the herd was already miles away. It’s a shame, but the good news is that he got a day of nursing in. That’ll stand him in good stead. You’re welcome to come up and take him home for a while.”

“Well, sure,” Veryl said. “Absolutely. Let me find out when Roger can fly us up.”

“Veryl,” Marlo said, “this one’s a fighter, but I can’t guarantee you he’s going to make it.”

“I know,” she replied, although she didn’t know. It had never occurred to her that she might get a baby buffalo who wouldn’t survive.

“First thing you need to do is go out and load up on powdered goat’s milk, ’cause this little guy can sure suck the heck out of a half- gallon bottle. But, with any luck, at least now you can start that piece of yours.”

“That piece” was a sculpture of a nineteenth-century rancher’s wife bottle-feeding a couple of baby buffalo. Not just any rancher’s wife, and not just any rancher either. Her name was Mary Ann Dyer and she had married a great-great uncle of Veryl’s named Charles Goodnight. Veryl had known for years about her ancestor’s illustrious career as a pioneering cattle rancher in the Texas panhandle. Goodnight was the subject of biographies, a stern but just presence in countless books on the American frontier. However, it wasn’t until the past December, when a friend mailed her an article from Texas Highways magazine, that Veryl had learned that Charles and Mary Ann Goodnight had done something quite extraordinary: they had helped save the American buffalo from total annihilation in the 1870s. Veryl almost immediately decided to immortalize in bronze what Charles and Mary Ann had done for all buffalo. To do that, she needed a buffalo calf, and a very, very young one at that.

She worked almost exclusively from life. For the trio of wolves she was finishing now, she had made three or four trips to the Candy Kitchen Wolf Refuge near the Zuni pueblo in southwestern New Mexico, where she had observed full-blooded wolves that had been rescued, in many cases, from humans who erroneously thought that they might make nice pets. The wolves were the most difficult subjects she’d ever undertaken. They looked so much like dogs that it was hard to capture their “wolfness.” Making a wolf that looked like a dog was easy; making a wolf that looked like a wolf was not. Veryl looked over at Mickey, their Jack Russell terrier puppy, who was lying uncharacteristically still on a rug, snoozing in a patch of sunlight next to Luke, their German shepherd. Except for the occasional twitching leg, neither of them had moved a muscle in over an hour. A statue of sleeping dogs, Veryl thought—now that would be a piece of cake.

As for a buffalo calf, she knew he would be able to model for her right in her studio, as long as it was bottle-nursing, so she could symbolize the remarkable moment in American history when a few humans had nursed a species back from the brink of extinction.

Veryl walked down to the barn, where Roger was feeding his horse Kepler, who shared the barn with Matt Dillon, his other horse, and Veryl’s horse Toddy. As she watched him from outside the stall, she thought, even after thirteen years of marriage: how lucky can one girl be?

Roger, retired now for several years as a commercial airline pilot, was a handsome, big-boned man, over six feet, thick as a linebacker, with a lightly freckled face red from the sun and a boyish head of graying blond hair. No one would be surprised to learn that he had once flown secret missions in Laos for the CIA, or had a first-degree black belt in karate, or still played competitive soccer. He looked like just the sort of man you’d want by your side in a war or mudslide or barroom brawl. He was exactly the kind of airline pilot you were glad to see smiling by the cockpit door as you boarded his plane.

Roger had a wry sense of humor that he indulged on rare occasions. His particular mix of openness and reserve made him entirely familiar and unknowable at the same time. When he confided in you, you were only more aware of what he wasn’t telling you.

Roger had a gift for reading people quickly and could usually figure out within a few sentences who was capable of a real exchange of ideas and who just wanted to hear himself talk. As a result, he rarely found himself in a conversation he didn’t want to be in, which saved him a lot of words. He knew how to turn aside insipid salesmen and ranting strangers with a smile. Roger hadn’t married until his forties, back in the late 1980s. He was waiting for the right woman to come along. She turned out to be Veryl Goodnight, then in her late thirties, who had obviously been waiting for the right man.

“Guess what?” she asked, beaming.

Roger turned from Kepler and sized up her excitement. “You got a baby bison?” It was just like him, one step ahead of everyone else.

“Marlo Goble just called. The calf’s only a couple of days old and Marlo wants us to come up and get him.”

“Then that’s what we’ll do,” Roger said.

Helped along by an MBA earned long ago at Arizona State, Roger ran the business-and-marketing end of Goodnight Fine Arts, managing everything from balancing the books and negotiating the contracts with foundries and collectors to handling mailings about Veryl’s upcoming shows. He was as comfortable with the industrialists who bought sculptures as the crane operators who lowered them into place.

A couple of days after Goble’s call, and all because of what had happened 125 years before in the Texas panhandle, Veryl Goodnight, Roger, and Mickey the Jack Russell terrier climbed into the turquoise- copper-and-white Cessna Conquest twin-engine turbo-prop that Roger co- owned and flew two hours north-by-northwest, biting off the northeast corner of Utah and the southwest corner of Wyoming before landing in Idaho Falls. Marlo Goble picked them up and drove them for hours up the long valley before turning onto the dirt road leading to his Medicine Lodge Buffalo Ranch. When they got out of the car, Doris Brienholt, a petite blonde who managed the ranch with her husband Stuart, was already coming toward them with her border collie. Behind them, bouncing along like just another member of the family, was an animal not much bigger than a golden retriever, and with almost the same coloring—a rusty red body and a honey-colored face. If it weren’t for his broad black nose, he could have been mistaken for the long-legged family dog.

Mickey the Jack Russell, appointing himself chairman of the greeting committee, dashed up to the calf, got on his hind legs, and kissed him on the muzzle. Veryl came up behind Mickey, knelt, and took the calf’s soft face in her hands. “Hi, sweetie,” she said, surprised by a lick in the face. It was difficult to believe that the animal had been in his mother’s womb less than a week before, and that, if he survived, he would someday become a shaggy two-thousand-pound example of one of the greatest, most haunted, and certainly most hunted species ever.

They stayed three days. Marlo, Roger, and Veryl rode out on horseback to look at Marlo’s herd. Somewhere in that woolly mass of bison was a mother perhaps still wondering what had happened to her newborn. Back at the house, Doris taught Roger and Veryl how to mix the formula. In the wild, orphaned calves attach themselves to anything large and moving—as Meriwether Lewis had found out two hundred years before on his and William Clark’s expedition, when a young bison attached himself to him for an entire afternoon. It was easy to see by the way the week-old calf nursed contentedly at Doris’s side that he had imprinted on her. The trick now was to transfer the imprinting onto Veryl and Roger, a process helped immensely each time one of them showed the calf a half-gallon bottle of powdered goat’s milk. As Veryl struggled to hold the bottle while the calf bunted and pulled, she saw that Marlo hadn’t been joking about the week-old calf’s appetite.

When it was time for Roger and Veryl to leave with the buffalo, Doris was so sad to see him go that she refused to make the drive back to the airport. On the airstrip, the calf polished off a bottle before Roger and Marlo herded him into a dog crate and loaded him into the cabin of the eight-passenger Conquest. Roger slid two of the chairs back on their tracks to make room. As Roger taxied for takeoff, Veryl sat next to the crate and reached through the bars to give the calf a pacifier, for which he thanked her with a soft grunt. By the time they reached the end of the runway, the calf was already asleep. Roger banked over Idaho Falls, headed south, and climbed to 27,000 feet, no doubt the altitude record for a week-old buffalo. Other than that, the flight was uneventful.

They decided to name him Charlie.

ttwo

Charlie’s namesake, Charles Goodnight, saw his first buffalo as a nine-year-old boy in the 1840s along the banks of the Trinity River, today the site of downtown Dallas. Like most people, he had been fascinated by their strength and staggering numbers. By the 1870s, Goodnight had been a Texas Ranger, legendary trail driver, cattle rancher and breeder, and inventor of the chuck wagon—and was well on his way to being widely acknowledged as “Father of the Texas Panhandle.” Cattleman though he was, he was troubled by how rapidly the buffalo were disappearing; Goodnight realized that a world that had existed for thousands of years—a world that had belonged to the Indian and the buffalo—was coming to an end.

Once there had been 30 million buffalo in the United States, maybe 40. Some estimates (now considered by many to be grossly inflated) put the number as high as 80. Until 1860, even at the lowest number, there were more buffalo in America than people. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark had found it impossible “to calculate the moving multitude which darkened the whole plains.” Another observer was more poetic: “The world looked like one robe.” The country was teeming with buffalo, herds of them hundreds of thousands strong, a vast shaggy carpet of buffalo miles long and miles wide. On first seeing them, men were apt to rub their eyes and question their sanity. There were places where the buffalo weren’t just on the land; they seemed to be the land. If you couldn’t see them, you could hear them coming, well in advance, an apocalypse on hooves. Sometimes it took days for them to run past a fixed point. Some claimed you could have walked ten miles across their backs without ever touching the ground. In his memoir, the prolific buffalo hunter J. Wright Mooar estimated the Southern herd in the millions. “For five days,” he wrote of a hunting trip in 1873, “we had ridden through and camped in a mobile sea of living buffalo.” For much of the nineteenth century, trying to calculate their number was a favorite pastime of hunters, settlers, naturalists, and

soldiers.

Over the millennia, since the last Ice Age, the buffalo had come over the Bering Land Bridge from Asia, spreading east and south. Into the nineteenth century, they roamed what are now all the states in the continental United States except Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine. When the British explored Virginia in 1733, they found hordes of wild buffalo, “so gentle and undisturbed” that men could almost pet them. By the 1830s, however, the buffalo that had once roamed the East Coast from New York to Georgia had been virtually eliminated by Indians, colonists, weather, and disease.

By the 1840s, the buffalo population in the West had been whittled down as well. The buffalo on the west side of the Continental Divide were already gone, victims of the heavily trafficked Oregon Trail, with its endless wagon trains full of hungry settlers. That left the tens of millions of buffalo on the short- and long-grass prairies, but their days were numbered too.

Table of Contents

Readers are crazy about A Buffalo in the House!
See what they have to say in their letters to Veryl Goodnight and Roger Brooks:

“I don't often feel inspired enough to e-mail people to let them know how touching their stories are, but I picked up A Buffulo in the House by R. D. Rosen yesterday and was not able to put it down. I can't tell you enough how affected I was by you and your wife's outlook on life, people and animals. It takes special people to make this world go ‘round and the two of you certainly fall under the "Special People" category. I know that this sounds corny but thank you for allowing me, and I'm sure thousands of other folks, a peak inside [your] touching experience with Charlie. You made me want to go out and find a buffalo to bring home.”
–Kimberly Ozalas

“Last night I completed my first reading of A Buffalo in the House. I say the first reading because I know I will read it many times. The book tugged at my emotions like no other has. What a story. I am a great admirer of bison, so when I came upon the book at a local bookstore and paged through it, I immediately bought it and started reading it that night.”
–Tom Rice

“I just read the last sentence of A Buffalo in the House. Honestly, I can't stop crying. Thank you for sharing your story about Charlie and what you are doing for the nation's buffalo. You have my utmost respect. Although I am from Annapolis, MD and have no life experience with the mid-western lifestyle, I find myself deeply moved and grieving over our country because of your story. By the way, I have "a rooster in the house" that I have an interesting relationship with- which is the reason this book ended up in my hands as a gift.  Thank you for your story. I am changed because of it.”
–Kristy Wright

“Just now I finished the book about you and Charlie–I wanted to send you an email just to say I admire you and find the story of your relationship with Charlie so uplifting and life-affirmingit restored my faith in human nature and in goodness and dreams again!”
–Nancy Dillingham

“I just finished reading in one sitting R.D. Rosen's book A Buffalo in the House. The book was wonderful, and I plan on giving copies to my stepmother and three friends.”
–Nate Schweber

“I just finished reading the book.  I LOVED it.  I just wish I wouldn't have read the last two chapters at work during lunchtime.  I had to mask my tears!”
–Pat Stanish

“Your book is the first book of my life that I read in one sitting. I was riveted! I bought several copies and sent them to a childhood friend that has lived in Jackson Hole since our first days there who helps feed the wintering elk on the refuge and to Alan Monroe. I hawked it to the 'Pet Show' on radio that hits animal lovers nationwide and I will continue with every avenue I recognize. Thanks for the best read ever.”
–Mark Lee

“I loved the book - and I actually grew to love Charlie through the book!  It really touched me.  In fact, I finished reading it at about 2 AM - and started crying in bed! I had gone to bed that night telling my husband that we were going to take that long-talked-about trip out West soon - because I was going to go visit Charlie.”
–Jackie Stivers Flanagan

“Just a short note to let you know how much I enjoyed reading A BUFFALO IN THE HOUSE by R.D. Rosen. I look at it as a must read for anyone wishing to stay current with America's past.”
–Roland Jutras

A book for the whole family: I purchased this book for my mother for Christmas and she has only just managed to get it back to me because everyone else has been stealing it. As soon as one person finishes it someone else grabs it. Even my father thought it was delightful. The story is beautifully told and obviously told with a great deal of love. The little side stories - especially the one about the coyote — [are] endearing and bring a smile to the lips and a tear to the eye. This is a lovely book for anyone ages 15 to 115.”
–Miriam Hazel (as posted on Amazon.com)

“I just finished reading the above named book. Matter of fact, I didn't put it down until I had read all of it. It was a truly unique and wonderful account of a relationship between a man and one of nature's most magnificent creatures.”
–Ron Slade

“Stephanie, my wife, and I just finished reading Rosen’s A Buffalo in the House. As Americans, we now are so proud to have read such a story about really true Americans as yourselves…”
–Guy Eastman

“I just wanted to send you an email to tell you how much I enjoyed A Buffalo in the House.  R D Rosen did a wonderful job telling us readers all about you, Charlie and Veryl. It was so heartwarming, but so sad too. I have to admit the last few chapters had me in tears.”
–Connie Golden

“I've just finished reading A Buffalo in the House.  It was the book selected by my small book group from 5 choices.  I'm glad it was. What a remarkable story!  Your determination to help Charlie was most moving.”
–Sue Dressel

“In times past, the Plains Indian cultures understood that the Buffalo People helped them to survive with the gift of the Buffalo People’s own lives, and in return the Plains Indians thanked, respected and honored the spirit of the Buffalo People. By sharing the gift of Charlie you are honoring him and by extension honoring all the Buffalo People. This is what makes their spirit strong and helps them to live. Thank you (and Charlie too) for enriching my life.”
–Jason J. Rabant Sr.

“I just finished the story about Charlie. First off, I am a former zookeeper and have had my share of heartache but nothing like what you and Veryl had with Charlie. I learned a great deal about buffalo behavior from this book and I was amazed and fascinated. Sometimes, zookeepers can be a big bonus to helping get the word out about issues such as Yellowstone.”
–Carmen Morgan

“I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I couldn't put it down after I started reading. Reading this book made me feel as though I was there, seeing all that you did. I wish there were more books about the buffalo.”
–Danny Surratt

“Last week I was googling Buffalo gifts to find my boyfriend a gift and found R.D. Rosen's book A Buffalo in the House.  I was thrilled when I received it in the mail on my birthday yesterday. I spent the rest of my birthday and most of today reading it.  I was so moved by your story, I cancelled my birthday celebration plans to be taken out by my friends and told them "something came up".  The best Birthday present a girl could get...a night curled up by the fire reading a good book. Throughout the story, I had overwhelming feelings bubble up from the depths and I laughed and cried, smiled and sighed.  It is so well written, I just could not put it down and inked up the book, underlining it and writing notes to remind myself of the SHIFT that is and will continue to occur over time and what I can do in the future to move the "conversation of conservation" forward. “
–Sunny Sundstrom

“I just read A Buffalo in the House. What a fabulous story!  How great it was that you and your husband loved Charlie so much -- and took such great care of him. The book was enlightening -- a very sobering lesson about American history and the difficult journey of the buffalo.  Thanks so much for sharing your story.”
–Judy

“Complex stories, simply told: As a writer, [I] was intrigued by how the author combined a variety of stories over a variety of eras and a lot of different characters, all with a seamless touch and always harking back to the great common denominator - the buffalo. I am a changed person for having read this book.”
–Deev Murphy (as posted on Amazon.com)

“I have just finished reading Rosen's work and felt moved enough to write a brief review, which I intend to send to the newsletter for my local horse club, as well as a magazine (also equestrian) I am fond of. I hope you do not see this note as intrusive. My intention was just to tell you that your heroic efforts affected me, a person unknown to you.”
–SZ

“I wanted you to know how touched I was about your book.  It was so well written by Rosen and I really enjoyed the history lesson.”
–Christine Costello

“I picked up A Buffalo in the House at a bookstore in Moab, Utah last summer as a "stash-away" Christmas present for my husband Gary, whom I moved West to marry 2 years ago. Gary's passion is the American West. A retired attorney, he has about 5,000 volumes about the West. I was sure he'd enjoy R.D. Rosen's book. When he finished reading it in January, he said, "I'm sure you'd enjoy this, too", and he was surely right. I couldn't put it down. […] I love looking at the picture of you and him on the book's cover. I concluded years ago that there are no coincidences. As I read about the Goodnights, buffalo, and the braiding together of many stories, names, and fates, I thought it again.”
–Linda Foster Bradak

“Last night, I completed A Buffalo in the House; lying in bed next to my husband who was already asleep, I tried to cry as quietly as possible. Though I've lived for 2 1/2 years in Africa, this world of bison, elk, moose, coyote and wolf was new to me and I fell absolutely in love.”
–Barbara J. King

“I just finished R.D. Rosen’s book and I loved the story of you and Charlie. Good luck stopping the pointless slaughter of Yellowstone’s Bison.”
–Adam Sturm

“My husband and I just finished reading A Buffalo in the House and thoroughly enjoyed it.  We found it particularly rewarding to discover that we share many of the same profound life altering experiences gifted to you by these magnificent creatures.”
–Polly Preston

“Well, now that I have put my tissues away after finishing this wonderful book, I just wanted to email you to say that your relationship with Charlie was just moving, and wonderful, and powerful, and sad.”
–Joan

“I finished reading A Buffalo in the House last night. I have to say, I cried like a baby. I used to visit a ranch nearby that had a collection of misfit animals it had taken in from around the area. One of those animals was a baby bison. I have scratched his face and given him kisses, so I felt especially close to Charlie throughout the book. What a treasured gift - to share our lives so intimately with another creature. Thank you for making your story available to us. It was deeply touching.”
–Debby Lambert
Author Q&A

Author Q&A

A Conversation with R. D. Rosen, Roger Brooks, and Veryl Goodnight

1. R. D. Rosen:
Do you remember your reaction when, having just met you, I asked your permission to write a book about you and Charlie? I sensed right away that your personal story was at the center of a much bigger web of personal and historical issues. I was deeply struck, as a writer, by the fact that you, Veryl, were descended from two people instrumental in saving all American buffalo from extinction–and here you two were, saving a single buffalo. Were you surprised by my interest? You were both always extremely supportive and cooperative, but did you have any moments of doubt or regret that you hid from me?

Roger: Other than wanting the best possible life for Charlie, my goal for him was to be an ambassador for his species. So few people have the opportunity to touch a bison, be licked by one, to smell them (very sweet and clean) and to better understand what this animal is about. I supported your writing a book because it was an extension of Charlie’s ambassador role, to create a better understanding and a greater appreciation of these magnificent animals and their tragic role in America’s history.

Veryl: I wasn’t surprised when you asked to write a story about Charlie. The moment I began researching the role that Charles and Mary Ann Goodnight played in saving bison from hide hunters in the 1870”s, I recognized it as an untold story that needed written.


2.RDR: I certainly knew next to nothing about the buffalo’s embattled history before starting to write A Buffalo in the House–and I was stunned by the scale of the slaughter and the widespread indifference to it. How much were you two aware of that history while raising Charlie?

Roger: I had never given the history of the bison/human encounter much thought. I gained great insight as to how inappropriately this animal was treated by white settlers and often by Indians as well. My education was the nexus for my desire to have Charlie educate others, to be an ambassador for his species.

Veryl: I was aware of the massive slaughter of the bison, but I was not aware of the individuals such as Charles and Mary Ann Goodnight who devoted so much of their lives helping bring the bison back from the brink of extinction. The story of humanity at its best inspired me to sculpt “Back From the Brink.” Why not inspire a writer too?


3.RDR: Has your relationship with your other animals–your horses, dogs, and cat--changed as a result of your experience with Charlie?

Roger: No.

Veryl: I have always had - and always will have - a deep love for all animals.


4.RDR: While writing the book, I was concerned with balancing the telling of the “small” story in the present with the “big” story in the past to which it was connected through your ancestors, Veryl. I wanted readers to see how your and Roger’s love for Charlie occurred in a much larger context. I think we all struggle to see how events in our daily lives are shaped, and given meaning, by the past. I’m wondering what message you hope the book has for readers.

Roger: The book was yours to write, to interpret history and events in the way you felt as being most appropriate. Respect for the animal world is a key message in the book.

Veryl: The story of our raising Charlie was a catalyst to tell a much bigger story. The heart of the book, to me, is how such a magnificent animal was brought so close to extinction and how individuals such as Charles and Mary Ann Goodnight saw beyond the politics of the time and fought to stop the slaughter and save the remnant herds. The grand finale is telling how this history of slaughter is being repeated as the only wild and unmanaged bison herd in America, the Yellowstone herd, attempt their annual migration to lower country to calve.

5.RDR: What kind of feedback from your families, friends, and colleagues have you received since the book’s publication? Veryl, have you gotten any interesting requests for artwork since A Buffalo in the House was first published?

Veryl: I have been very pleased with everyone’s response to A Buffalo in the House. While “anything for art” is what started this chapter in our lives, the book shares our relationship with animals that supercedes their roles as models for sculpture.


6.RDR: You provided an e-mail address for readers to reply with their thoughts on the book. So far, what similarities are you finding in those responses?

Roger: Almost every email response I received from readers had two common elements, they laughed and they cried. They also better understood that bison are not mere lumps on the prairie, they are sensitive and stoic animals that have only suffered from self-serving human attitudes.

Veryl: Roger has responded to every email and read the most poignant ones to me. It seems that Charlie has helped take bison out of the realm of a “statistic” and given them a personality. Flipper did this for dolphins. And many other individual animals have done the same for their species.


7.RDR: At the end of A Buffalo in the House, Roger, you’d become an advocate for the conservation of American buffalo populations and for the fair treatment of the wild buffalo of Yellowstone National Park. What are the biggest challenges facing the buffalo population today and what kind of success have you had in drawing attention to them?

Roger: With reference only to wild bison and specifically the Yellowstone herds, they are caught between polar opposites, environmentalists and ranchers. This leaves a lot of room to develop a middle ground that recognizes the vital interests of both parties and an opportunity to find compromises in areas that are not actually vital.

The Yellowstone bison’s biggest problem is perhaps ours as well, they live in the 21st century. There is no unclaimed land where bison can be free from human interference. My intent is to explore the uncharted middle ground for opportunities to benefit Yellowstone’s bison, while respecting the vital interests of area ranchers. One direction is to support the development of a bison specific brucellosis vaccine that over time, could eliminate the unfounded concern by ranchers of brucellosis bacteria being transmitted to cattle. A “clean” herd will also allow excess Yellowstone bison (currently about 1,000) the opportunity to join other herds, a much better option than the current one, summary execution.

Veryl: The Buffalo Field Campaign is a valiant group of folks who constantly keep the plight of the Yellowstone bison before the public. They are on the front lines year round facing the often inhumane treatment of the bison as they attempt to do what every other herd animal in Yellowstone does — migrate to lower elevations to give birth. I have a deep respect for the BFC but join Roger in feeling that the eradication of brucellosis is vital to stop the unfair treatment of the Yellowstone herd and address the concerns of the ranchers.

Another opportunity is available only with the Yellowstone herd — the opportunity to study buffalo behavior. After the great slaughter of the 1800’s, buffalo were “reinvented” as a domesticated herd animals. Bison somehow slipped through the cracks of wildlife research. Only the Yellowstone herd can provide true insight to unmanaged behavior.


8.RDR: Writing A Buffalo in the House certainly changed me in several ways, including enlarging my appreciation of this extraordinary animal and the natural world in general, and enlarging my historical perspective through my research into an often forgotten, and very tragic, period in our country’s past. Also, the integrity with which you’ve led your own lives with animals has been an inspiration. How has the experience with Charlie, and the experience of being written about, changed you?

Roger Brooks: Charlie opened up a new chapter of understanding for me and for many others who met him. By having a personal relationship with a bison, I better appreciated that every animal of every species is an individual. Charlie was who he was, an example of the completely honest nature of the animal world.

I first viewed our bottle raising of Charlie as an opportunity to know and relate with an animal that I otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to know. Our goal with Charlie was to reintroduce him to his own kind and have him become part of a herd. After his injury, when release was impossible, we formed a bond. To Charlie, I was his mother, his (hard to convince) mate and since he was a bull, his rival. I accepted the first role, avoided the second and delicately dealt with the third.

Veryl Goodnight: I have raised many animals over the years as a means of sculpting from life. Each one has brought a deeper understanding of that species. Raising Charlie and sculpting directly from him enabled me to bring a different point of view to a buffalo sculpture.

Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. Before reading A BUFFALO IN THE HOUSE, how much did you know about buffalo? What new things did you learn about the species history in America?

2. On page 15, R. D. Rosen writes: “When the British explored Virginia in 1733, they found hordes of wild buffalo, ‘so gentle and undisturbed’ that men could almost pet them.” How do you think our lives would be different today if the buffalo were able to continue their dominance of the American landscape?

3. Charlie came into Veryl and Roger’s family because of Veryl’s need, and because he’d been abandoned. Have you ever adopted an orphaned pet? What circumstances led you to decide to welcome an abandoned animal into your home?

4. Roger Brooks did not expect to fall in love with Charlie. In fact, he first thought of Charlie as “Veryl’s baby bison.” But he soon realized he had become quite attached without knowing it. In what ways can you relate to Roger’s experience? Have you ever fallen in love — with a pet or a person — unexpectedly? And in what ways do you think we love animals and people differently?

5. In nineteenth century America, politicians were chiefly concerned with removing impediments to westward expansion–and the buffalo (live ones) and American Indians stood in their way and suffered accordingly. Today, what other populations–animal or human–are being threatened or destroyed in the name of “progress”?

6. Can you imagine any other “solution” to the problems presented by tens of millions of buffalo covering the American plains in the 19th century? Or was the Great Buffalo Slaughter inevitable?

7. Buffalo are making something of a comeback these days. Many people would like to see buffalo once again roam the Great Plains, especially in economically depressed areas, where they might attract tourist dollars and also revitalize the soil. Do you think this is a good idea?

8. A growing number of vegetarians highlight the harsh treatment of animals farmed for consumption as their chief reason for removing meat from their diets. Has reading this book, changed your perspective on eating meat? If so, what would you attribute to that change?

9. Even owners of large breed dogs have empathized with Roger and Veryl’s plight as Charlie became a bit too big for the house. If you own a pet, what challenges did you face integrating that pet into your new home? Was it easy to establish boundaries — where it could roam, what it could do?

10. What role do you think Charlie played in his family — aside from sculpture model? If you have a pet, how does it fit in to your family? If you have more than one pet, how did the other(s) respond to new additions?

11. Roger and Veryl are quick to mention that Charlie actually brought them closer together. Does your pet bring you closer to the other members of your family?

12. Because of his unique upbringing, perhaps the biggest challenge Charlie faced was an identity crisis — he didn’t quite distinguish that Roger and Veryl were humans and that he was a buffalo. In what ways did your upbringing inform your sense of identity, of who you are and where you belong? What adjustments did you find were necessary as you got older?

13. Roger and Veryl went to great odds to get Charlie to their home, to raise him, and to care for him under some intense circumstances. How much would you risk to bring an animal into your home? And what would you be willing to do to save its life?


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